Metroid Dread review: EMMI award-winning action

Fans of the long-running Metroid series have been waiting patiently for a brand-new entry in the saga for quite some time. Does Metroid Dread live up to the expectations?

7

Usually when people ask me what my favorite console of all time is I tell them how much I love the SNES and that is quickly followed by me explaining emphatically that Super Metroid is one of the greatest games ever made. Hands-down, put a period on that shizz and call it a day. Even before then, the original Metroid for the NES was a tour de force that staked the series’ claim as one of the GOATs. While the Marios, Zeldas, and Links of the world may often get more mainstream attention, you wouldn’t have one half of the Metroidvania game formula without it. And like many die-hard Metroid fans I was beyond elated when Metroid Dread was announced for the Nintendo Switch.

Metroid Dread is the first new instalment in the mainstream storyline in almost 20 years!
Metroid Dread is the first new instalment in the mainstream storyline in almost 20 years!

It’s been nearly two decades since we’ve had a brand-new entry in Samus Aran’s saga and Metroid: Samus Returns for the 3DS really whet fans’ appetites for a fully-new, side-scrolling entry into the series. I am pleased to say that Metroid Dread does indeed scratch the proverbial itch that fans are hoping it does while also adding some great new features. But while this new entry heralds the series into a bright future, there are a few things that feel stuck in the past.

New planet, who dis?

Players will have plenty to explore on the planet known as ZDR.
Players will have plenty to explore on the planet known as ZDR.

Metroid Dread picks up after the events of Metroid Fusion and finds Samus sent to a planet known as ZDR. There have been rumors stirring that maybe Samus didn’t wipe out all the X parasites in her last adventure and that they’ve been spotted on ZDR. Now Samus must investigate the reports for the Galactic Federation and find out what happened to the Extraplanetary Multiform Mobile Identifiers (EMMI for short) that had been sent in and disappeared ahead of her.

That’s where the story begins, but where it goes from there is an incredible journey that should please long-time fans and newcomers alike. The plot feels like a culmination of so much of the series’ past and is chock-full of twists and turns to keep you asking questions and compel you forward. If you’re a hardcore fan, you can definitely expect some jaw-dropping moments from the story. I don’t want to give away too much as you really need to experience it all for yourself, but I feel like you’ll be more than satisfied once you roll credits on Metroid Dread.

Samus will face a new threat as she is hunted by the EMMI bots.
Samus will face a new threat as she is hunted by the EMMI bots.

As anyone who has played Metroid games in the past would expect, there’s a lot of exploring, gaining new abilities, and then backtracking to reach places you couldn’t before. It’s a classic formula, but it’s done exquisitely in Dread. The game has a great pace to it (with a few exceptions we’ll get to later) and I can’t recall ever feeling like I didn’t know where I should be headed and what I should be doing even after opening up most of Metroid Dread’s many areas. It does a great job of offering direction and keeping you moving forward via a computerized Adam Malkovich that you communicate with at various network stations as you progress. It all feels like a grand puzzle that you get to unlock piece by piece.

While Metroid Dread offers up a whole heaping spoonful of what I’d consider the traditional Metroid experience it also adds several new features including areas where you’ll be stalked by the EMMI units that had gone missing. These EMMIs are tough as hell and can't be destroyed using any of Samus’ general arsenal. This means that players will have to avoid being detected and out-maneuver them in most encounters. It feels a lot like trying to escape the clutches of a Xenomorph from the Alien franchise, if you replaced them with very limber (and evil) robots. If you do happen to get caught, you will get a chance to counter in sort of a quick-time event, but the timing can be harder to hit than the old animated Dragon’s Lair arcade games. For the most part, the EMMI encounters were a welcome change of pace and an opportunity to figure out a new kind of traversal puzzle, but there were a few times I found myself getting caught over and over again that tested the limits of my patience. Still, they make for some of the most intense moments of the game.

Shining like a star

The areas in Metroid Dread are massive and gorgeous.
The areas in Metroid Dread are massive and gorgeous.

From a visual perspective, the Metroid series has never looked better. Environments range from dark caverns, pits of lava, ancient ruins, and beyond. Keen-eyed players will notice several moments where the game’s backdrop may offer a brief glimpse of what Samus may be facing down the road. Creature designs are just as varied as the environments and run the gamut from creepy, gooey alien creatures to killer robots and everything in between. In particular, the bosses in Metroid Dread tend to be larger than life, especially in the case of one returning boss in particular, who comes back bigger and badder than ever before in Dread. There’s just a delicious amount of detail to be soaked up everywhere.

The soundtrack hits all the right marks as well with that oh-so important balance between minimalism and grandiose composition. Moments where the environment should be subtle and build tension have that eerie, airy ambiance. It’s a perfect contrast to the loud and intense moments where you’ll throw down against a boss or try your best to escape from an EMMI’s deadly grip.

Teaching an old Metroid new tricks

Counter-attacks make a return in Metroid Dread along with a new cloaking ability.
Counter-attacks make a return in Metroid Dread along with a new cloaking ability.

As I mentioned before, Samus has some old and new tricks up her sleeve. Standard move abilities like the morph ball and ice missiles make a comeback, along with the more recently added counter-attack skill. I actually really like how the counter-attack functions in Metroid Dread. If you’re fighting against a regular enemy and you get the timing right it offers you a chance to get a one-shot kill with some bonus loot for having mad skills. It’s also super-helpful that your blaster will auto-aim in the direction of a dazed enemy after you land a hit. In boss fights, timing a counter properly will get you animated sequences that give you an opportunity to blast them with a barrage of attacks. For instance, in your first boss fight against the scorpion-like Corpius you’ll get a chance to grab it by the neck and just unload missiles in its face if you time your counter just right.

Metroid Dread also adds a cloak ability that Samus will be able to use to unlock certain doors, but more importantly she can use it to avoid EMMI detection. It’s a skill that saved my bacon from being caught a number of times by those bad bots. It really compliments the emphasis on stealth during the EMMI segments.

In space no one can hear you scream at your controller

Sometimes you have to hold down way too many buttons at once in Dread.
Sometimes you have to hold down way too many buttons at once in Dread.

While Samus’ skills are vast and varied, how you execute most of them is the low point for Metroid Dread. The controls are just dated and add a layer of challenge that make them even more frustrating. There are points where I found myself holding down two shoulder buttons, a face button, and aiming with the left analog stick, all at the same time. While I love the puzzle aspects of Metroid Dread, I don’t want the controls to feel like I’m doing more steps than a Learn-How-to-Dance instructional video. Accurate aiming was also a challenge throughout the game, especially when using Joy-Cons. This was mainly an issue during boss fights and certain segments where you’re forced to use a special charged-up version of Samus’ arm cannon. It’s honestly the one part of the game that feels like it’s not a step forward.

The only other real crack in Metroid Dread’s space-armor is the difficulty can fluctuate at times. For instance, I must’ve done the second boss fight at least a dozen times before I finally mastered all the patterns and got the timing right, but most of the other bosses (with the exception of the final boss, which I’ll get to in a moment) only took me a couple of tries before I could put everything together and blast them to smithereens. You should definitely be prepared to spend a lot of time taking on that final boss as well. It’s just tough as nails. With that being said, I think that it’s all part of the charm and challenge. A lot of those failed attempts came down to me not recognizing a lot of attack patterns and striking opportunities. I had a lot of “aha!” moments where things clicked and I felt like an idiot for not seeing it sooner. Plus, I don’t want an easy Metroid game. I want a Metroid that fills me with a sense of accomplishment when I finally beat it and that’s what Dread delivers overall.

See you, space cowboy

Metroid Dread is not a perfect game, but while its control issues and difficulty are prominent, they are by no means deal-breakers for me. In so many ways it is a return to what makes Metroid such a fantastic series of games. The EMMI chase segments are a welcome addition and add a new twist to its classic gameplay. The boss fights are more epic than ever, and the story is such a sweet payoff for fans that have invested literal decades in the overall series’ lore. There are a number of reasons they named the first half of an entire genre of games after this franchise and so many of them are on display here. Metroid Dread is a sci-fi blast of brilliance that fans and newcomers alike will more than likely enjoy.


This review is based off a key provided by the publisher. Metroid Dread launches exclusively for the Nintendo Switch on October 08, 2021 at an MSRP of $59.99 USD. It's rated T for Teen.

Reviews Editor

Blake has been writing and making videos about pop-culture and games for over 10 years now. Although he'd probably prefer you thought of him as a musician and listened to his band, www.cartoonviolencemusic.com. If you see him on the street, buy him a taco or something. Follow him on twitter @ProfRobot

Review for
Metroid Dread
9
Pros
  • Rich visuals
  • An amazing story full of fan service
  • EMMI provide a new and welcome challenge
  • Another solid soundtrack
  • Thrilling boss fights
  • A brand-new side-scrolling entry for the series
Cons
  • Controls feel outdated
  • Challenge feels unbalanced in some moments
From The Chatty
  • reply
    October 6, 2021 6:00 AM

    Blake Morse posted a new article, Metroid Dread review: EMMI award-winning action

    • reply
      October 6, 2021 7:05 AM

      Blake, roughly how long was your playthrough?

      • reply
        October 6, 2021 11:07 AM

        It was about 9 hours or so. I'd say runs will probably take anywhere from 8-14 hours depending on how fast and how much of a completionist you are.

    • reply
      October 6, 2021 7:59 AM

      METROID DREAD Review Thread

      88 on Metacritic & Opencritic currently
      https://www.metacritic.com/game/switch/metroid-dread?ref=hp
      https://opencritic.com/game/11621/metroid-dread

      Looks like its about 13-15 hours? Sounds perfect for me. Pre-order'd!

      • reply
        October 6, 2021 8:36 AM

        I've been playing an early copy. About 6 hours in according to the in-game timer, so maybe add another hour for real playtime due to map checking/respawning/load times. Great game, but doesn't top Super Metroid personally so far. Better than Fusion and Returns.

        I'll play devil's advocate and list all the negatives (overall minor nitpicks).

        - Adam's voiceover is pretty annoying. Wish they just had him silent.
        - Writing could be better. Feels amateurish. Maybe because it was developed by a Spanish dev? Paraphrasing a quote from the intro: "Their armour is made up of some of the hardest stuff in the galaxy."
        - I don't like the map UI. It feels very busy and hard to find areas you haven't explored. I think it's a mix of the large icon size and the map only shading pixels that Samus has actually passed through instead of just shading the whole room you've been in. A good addition is that you can select blockers (doors/walls that need a suit upgrade) and it will highlight all of them on the map.
        - Not a fan of the E.M.M.I. addition. On my third E.M.M.I. I wished they just weren't part of the game.
        - Control is good. Feels tight, but it can feel busy when you're trying to juggle two shoulder buttons + the stick to aim. Maybe I'm just old.

      • reply
        October 6, 2021 8:37 AM

        How many feek/10

      • reply
        October 6, 2021 8:46 AM

        Yes!!!

      • reply
        October 6, 2021 12:51 PM

        Not gonna trust a bunch of reviews from zoomers who don't know WTF Metroid is supposed to be. If people like Jeff Gerstmann like it then I'll know it's worth checking out

        • reply
          October 6, 2021 2:40 PM

          Eh, Jeff doesn't like Hollow Knight. I respect the guy but I know my tastes do not align with his in everything.

    • reply
      October 6, 2021 12:37 PM

      My body is ready https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-BkrwO_Dck \m/ :) \m/

    • reply
      October 6, 2021 2:39 PM

      Hot damn!

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